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Six years of Phaphama – Our Story

Written by Caleb Qoyo

Phaphama was birthed from the consolidation of three separate student affiliated organisations, (i) the SAB Foundation, (ii) Angel Fund which was under Enactus and (iii) Siyaya. The SAB Fund was created when SAB gave money to some small businesses and recruited students to consult with those businesses’ owners, helping them to use the money wisely and set up a viable framework to scale up. Angel Fund taught a micro MBA program to local businesses owners, with a curriculum geared towards teaching them how to be sustainable. Siyaya did similar work to that of Angel Fund but was housed under Shawco, they taught entrepreneurs bookkeeping and basic accounting theory.

These three initiatives, however, were not meeting their desired goals and the students leading them felt more could be done to make them truly impactful. It was then that Steward Henry, a UCT academic teaching entrepreneurship, got in touch with them. He said if they were to truly make an impact then they would need to break away from the university student society framework which is overly limiting. Since all three do similar work, they can be merged; combining the expertise they have and leveraging the networks each came with to create an organisation with greater reach. They took his advice and came together, identified their respective organisation’s shortcomings and solutions for them and from that created the framework of how the new entity would operate. Phaphama was the result. The name “Phaphama” came from Phila Sithole (the second vice president) and it means to wake up/awaken. Phaphama aims to awaken the potential of small businesses.

Speaking of those early days, Thandwe Radebe (founding president) remembers how challenging it was at the beginning:

“We were setting up an organisation no longer housed in a university that did everything for us, we are setting up a standalone entity, putting in place MOUs, creating a curriculum, recruiting the best consultants from a brand that doesn’t exist and sourcing funding… doing all this with little support, while also balancing being final year students. It was quite tough.”

Building on that foundation Phaphama has seen remarkable growth, and to date we’ve worked with over 100 SMEs and 300 student consultants. The program brings together students from UCT and entrepreneurs from developing communities in Cape Town to work through weekly workshops together, focusing on different aspects of business over the course of the year. Some of our alumni have gone on to do further work in the social entrepreneurship and development space and can be found in firms like Dalberg and 71point4 among others.

Encouraging problem solving and social awareness have always been in the DNA of Phaphama. Whether in the early days when we needed to be creative about attracting and selecting the best suited student consultants or this year when we had to find ways to keep the program running and best support our entrepreneurs during the lockdown. Phaphama is specially positioned, taking students often from privileged backgrounds pairing them with our entrepreneurs who they would never otherwise meet. By the end students leave with skills to problem solve in resource constrained environments, culturally aware and with richer awareness of societal issues. 

Speaking of the most fulfilling part of the experience, Kiren Rutsch (current president) said:

“It’s watching the journey we all go on. Seeing people grow. Seeing entrepreneurs become more confident and capable in their ability to run their businesses. They feel empowered to speak about their business. Often they can seem shy at the beginning of the program but over time they become more assured, build relationships with their consultants and with other entrepreneurs… I still regularly speak to some of the entrepreneurs I worked with last year and it’s been a joy to see that they’re doing well.”

At its heart, from the beginning till now Phaphama has always been about people, creating the relationships that help them realise their potential and become better versions of themselves.

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